I would say the Dreamcast version of the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is the best, but it feels like a port of a PlayStation game, and it probably is. Sure enough, in the credits, we see “Dreamcast port by Treyarch.” The game is a classic, and there’s a certain purity to not having never-ending tricks like the later games introduced with the manual and the wall ride. As sure a sign of the game’s success as anything, there were copycats, like Matt Hoffman’s Pro BMX, Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX, and BMX XXX (though all biking games), and perhaps even Jet Set Radio with rollerskating
“So here I am, doing everything I can…” Hmm. Where have I heard that?
There are consistencies in Tony Hawk. With each level, you collect the letters S-K-A-T-E, find the five tapes and the one hidden tape, and surpass a designated score. Also, each level has a unique challenge (such as grinding the five police cars in San Francisco). All of these things are done to progress to the next level, upgrade your skateboard, or upgrade your skateboarder. Taking on the game as one skateboarder isn’t hard; you can spend the two minutes focusing on one challenge at a time. Acing the game with all of the skaters is a challenge. In addition to Tony Hawk, there are skaters of the era like Bob Burnquest and Bucky Lasek.
“Jerry was a race car driver…” No really, I know this!
The other way a level can work is as a timed competition. You have one minute and you’re trying to do as many tricks as possible. Usually a bowl or half-pipe is the place to go, and do grabs and spins. Just don’t get greedy on the spins (like I usually do) and you’ll be all right. Perhaps now is the best time to say that tricks in THPS are totally unrealistic. No one can get that much air, do that many spins, and combine that many tricks. But hey, that’s part of why the game is fun.
“Tonight’s the night that we got the truck…” This can only be the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack!
Yes, it’s an excellent soundtrack. If you played on the PlayStation, we were coming off of bleeps and bloops from the SNES and Genesis, which couldn’t handle sampled music all that well. It really did make you pause when a game had real music that you might hear on the radio. Even the worst of the soundtrack is, well, still here: “I am the ambassador, I’ll kick your ass-ador!” (Ughhh…) The Nintendo 64 cut tracks short due to space limitations, but it’s all there on the Dreamcast. Also it was cool that video was played on projection screens in one of the courses, sometimes a music video, sometimes a skate tape. We have the CD-ROM to thank for it all.
So yeah, progressing through the game unlocks skate tapes of real skaters, but sooner or later, there’s not much left to see. The controls aren’t perfect – we aren’t as deft with movement as Mario – but the controls could still be mastered if you liked the game enough. There are skateboarding games going back to Commodore 64 with Skate or Die, but Tony Hawk is really a game of its time. Just remember that the biggest change to the series happened in the second game, with the manual trick, allowing more points by combining tricks. As it stands, the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is a classic for breaking new ground.